Groups of teachers at three Lakeville Area Public Schools are among 10 schools in the state to receive grants that will allow staff members to explore how they can lead innovative practices.
Lakeville North High School, the Area Learning Center and Impact Academy at Orchard Lake Elementary all have been awarded grants totaling $150,000. The grants support teacher learning, exploration and design of possible models and approaches that will better personalize learning and meet needs of 21st century learners.
The state grants will run from February 2017 through June 2018; these groups could apply for a second round of grants to implement programs the following year. Winning first-round grants will foster exploration of innovative approaches to teaching and learning that will better serve students, but accepting the grants does not obligate districts to move forward with plans.
Grants have community tie
The concept for the grants and the law providing the money have strong ties to the community, said Julene Oxton, the district’s innovation coordinator. The bill, authored by state Rep. Roz Peterson of Lakeville, contained language developed by a coalition of organizations including teachers unions, the Center for School Change and Education Evolving. Oxton and Superintendent Dr. Lisa Snyder supported the legislation by testifying at hearings.
Once the district learned of the grants availability, its Shared Leadership Team – a group of administrators and teaching staff who help define the district’s strategic direction – worked to communicate the opportunity to staff. While seven teacher groups from pre-Kindergarten through high school initially showed interest, ultimately, four groups completed the application process. Three grants were awarded as of Jan. 4.
“I am so proud of the time and effort our staff have invested in exploring and applying for grants,” said Dr. Lisa Snyder, superintendent. “The funding will help our staff create models of personalized, future ready learning that better meet the needs of our 21st century learners,”
For example, at Lakeville North, a group of teachers want to explore whether taking an interdisciplinary approach to the four core subjects could help students build skills in leadership and civic responsibility.
“I got interested in this grant opportunity in part because of the ugly and divisive political climate in the country. I felt a need to be involved in something that might impact my students and the community in a positive way,” said Lora Den Otter, a Lakeville North teacher. “I was looking for a chance to connect to service learning and community building, and this seemed like a good opportunity.
“I hope the grant will give teachers the chance to learn about different models for engaging the 21st century learner and help students explore their own interests and become agents in their own learning,” Den Otter added.
Grants give teams resources to innovate
At the Area Learning Center, the grant will allow staff to plan what programming ideally would look like.
“With the proposed changes to the ALC as a whole, we started to think about what our ideal school would be. We thought that this would be a great opportunity to plan and create the school that our students and families deserve,” said Erin Mulvany-Mankowski, who teaches in the Compass Program. “We hope this grant will help us create a school in which our students may truly grow and prosper. We want a school that supports students and families every step of the way, and a school that is equipped to use alternative methods to get the desired outcomes.”
For Impact Academy at Orchard Lake Elementary, the grant will allow teachers to continue work as the model has expanded to a full-school model.
“Being awarded this grant will allow us to build and strengthen systems of collaboration and communication. Our multi-age setting demands that all teachers are contributing to a high functioning K-5 community with a common purpose and set of beliefs,” said Vivi Saufferer, community support specialist and Impact Academy development team member.
All three of the grants will foster the teams’ abilities to learn and design. The grant funds will be used for training, visits to schools with similar projects, and time for writing learning programs.
Lakeville joins a nationwide movement toward teachers leading innovation. A national opinion survey, commissioned by Minnesota-based education policy and design group Education Evolving, found that 91 percent of Americans believe teachers should have more authority in school level decision making. Seventy-eight percent or teachers believe teacher-powered schools are a good idea; 85 percent of American public agrees.*
*“State of American Schools: The Path to Winning Again in in Education.” Gallup, Inc. 2014. http://products.gallup.com/168380/state-education-report-main-page.aspx. For more information on methodology, see Appendix A.